Monday, September 2, 2013

Brainstorming: Two Heads Are Not Better Than One

The importance of creativity in an organizational setting cannot be overstated. As mentioned in previous posts, creativity is the “production of novel and useful ideas.”[1] Correspondingly, innovation is the services and products that result from creative ideas[2]. In a business setting, early innovators can achieve an “architectural advantage” and as a result force competitors into a structural dependency.[3] Such high incentives for innovation prompt companies to invest substantial time on idea generation techniques. Today we focus on brainstorming, a commonly used method of idea generation.

Quantity Breeds Quality
The first thing to understand about brainstorming is that quantity breeds quality.[4] “The probability of having one truly excellent idea can be directly predicted from the number of ideas generated.”[5]

Brainstorming in Groups is a Threat to Creativity
The next thing to understand is that brainstorming is best done individually. According to 40 years of brainstorming research, “brainstorming is significantly worse in terms of fostering creativity than just having the same number of individuals work independently.”[6] Four reasons this occurs are referred to as social loafing, conformity, production blocking, and downward norm setting. 

Social Loafing
Social Loafing refers to the tendency for group members to slack off. We exert much less effort in a group as we would alone.[7]

Conformity refers to the tendency to only present ideas and suggestions that we feel will be well received. This produces highly traditional and conservative ideas - the type organizations wish to avoid when seeking creative behavior.[8] 
Production Blocking
Production blocking refers to an interrupted state of flow.[9] When we are in a group setting we cannot describe our ideas as soon as we conceive them. We have to instead wait our turn, all the while paying attention to the other ideas being presented.[10] The cumulative effects of these attention demanding tasks act to block the production of our ideas.[11]
Downward Norm Setting
Downward norm setting refers to the tendency for individual performance within a group to converge over time.[12] Unfortunately, performance converges most towards the least productive member of a group. [13] Therefore the entire group's performance is hampered.

Stay tuned for the next post. We will learn to improve brainstorming in organizational settings despite the pitfalls mentioned above.

[1] Leigh Thompson, Improving the Creativity of Organizational Work Groups, Academy of Management Executive Vol. 17. No. 1 (2003), 96.
[2] Id.
[3] See Generally, Michael G. Jacobides, Thorbjørn Knudsen, and Mie Augier, Benefiting From Innovation: Value Creation, Value Appropriation and the Role of Industry Architectures, Research Policy 35.8 (2006), 1200-1221.
[4] See Thompson, supra note 1, at 98.
[5] Id., at footnote 8.
[6] Id., at 100.
[7] Id.
[8] Id. at 101.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.

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